Culinary Students Complete Nutrition Education, Shop for Healthy Food

There is no end to the news articles, research papers, documentaries or good-natured advice on what we should or should not eat. With conflicting reports found in news media, social media, blogs and other sources, it can be difficult to decipher just what to eat, how much and how often.

Second Harvest has recognized that the food bank has a central role in the health and wellness of the Central Florida community. One example of this responsibility is demonstrated in the Culinary Training Program where students learn the importance of what to eat, not just how to prepare it. As part of the curriculum, students complete a series of health and nutrition classes led by UF/IFAS. Current students recently continued their education with two additional components led by Second Harvest’s Nutrition Department, including two classroom sessions on healthy living and fast food choices and a field trip to a local supermarket to shop for healthy food on a budget.

Part 1: Classroom Discussion

In the classroom, students discussed the benefits of a healthy diet and analyzed sample food diary entries with Second Harvest’s Community Health and Nutrition Program Manager Amanda Sintes. They determined the biggest factors in diet-related decisions are time and money.

“It’s what your priorities are. You can spend money on convenience foods or take the time to cook your own meals,” said Chantel.

Then, students offered advice on how to increase nutrition by decreasing sugar, substituting low-fat dairy and revising portion sizes.

“We tend to overeat because portions are larger than they need to be. We want more for our money,” said Chris.

The class offered some tips:

  • Do you often skip breakfast? Bake mini-egg bites in a cupcake tin, or try overnight oats. Don’t like cold oatmeal? Microwave it in the morning.
  • Do you often order pizza because it’s fast and easy? Save time on weeknight dinners by cooking larger meals on the weekend.
  • Is fresh produce too expensive? Try to grow your own produce in pots, flower beds or in a community garden.
  • Bigger is not always better. When dining out, box up half of your meal before you start. Take it to go and eat it for lunch the next day.

Part 2: Field Trip

A week later, the students got to practice their new knowledge during a field trip at Publix. Store manager David Mendez welcomed the students and provided a reusable shopping bag. Afterward, students shopped the store with Second Harvest’s Nutrition Educator Terah Barrios. They learned to evaluate price per unit on price tags, to compare fresh to frozen produce and to determine the value of convenience foods. Students also compared the nutritional value in different types of meat, bread and canned items.

A few lessons learned:

  • Frozen vegetables can be your friend. These items are frozen within hours of being harvested and are a terrific option for out-of-season produce.
  • Avoid pre-packaged or pre-cut produce. While they are definitely a time saver, they cost so much more. Plus, they will spoil sooner and it only takes a few minutes to peel, slice or chop produce.
  • Look for bread with high fiber content.
  • Choose lean meats to cut the fat out of your diet.

Finally, students put their skills to the test. Armed with a $20 gift card supplied by Chepenik Financial, they were able to shop the store for the ingredients needed to prepare a healthy meal for their family. The recipe stands within the store provided some inspiration.

“I like to bring my daughter to the store with me and let her pick one new ingredient every time,” said Chris.

In the end, most students chose simple meals to prepare, like a whole wheat spaghetti dinner with fresh broccoli or a cookout with chicken, corn on the cob and a Caprese salad.

To learn more about Second Harvest’s efforts in health and hunger initiatives, visit www.feedhopenow.org/ how_community_initiative.

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